Before he assumed the Larry King spot on CNN earlier this week my only exposure to Piers Morgan was through his appearance on the celebrity version of The Apprentice. While that show was a showcase for essentially all that is wrong with humanity, and so perhaps not a fair environment in which to make judgments about its participants, Morgan came off a prat even amongst company like Gene Simmons and Stephen Baldwin, which is an accomplishment.
So, suffice to say, I didn’t have high hopes for Piers Morgan Tonight on CNN: I assumed it would be a cross between TMZ, Access Hollywood and Larry King Live.
It is not.
The new show is simple: an one-hour interview with a single guest. It has more in common with The Dick Cavett Show than with Larry King Live.
Morgan asks interesting questions, sometimes unpredictable ones. He is kind to his guests, but not fawning (well, he was fawning with Oprah, his first guest, but he can be forgiven that). He does not try to be hip or “with it” (see George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight) and he does not appear to have any designs on reinventing the chat show format.
The result is oddly-compelling television: last night’s hour with Ricky Gervais (ignore the first couple of minutes of mindless prattle) was entirely unlike the standard 7 or 8 minute “so, apparently you’re into ice cream sundaes!” late night show. It wasn’t quite Charlie Rose, but if you watch the 2004 interview Rose did with Gervais, I’d argue that Piers Morgan’s interview was better television.
The key to enjoying Piers Morgan Tonight is to completely ignore the CNN hype machine that surrounds it: if only CNN showed the same minimalist approach to promoting the show that they have in designing the show and its set it would feel a lot less like getting hit over the head repeatedly with a Piers Morgan hammer in the hours leading up to the show, and likely more viewers would tune in.